Business and Professional Practices
Full Session with Abstracts
Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of pragmatism, identified three stages in the "logic of inquiry" commonly employed by scientists: retroduction, the formulation of a conjecture or "guess," often in response to a surprising event; deduction, the explication of what else would be the case if that explanation is correct; and induction, the examination of whether such outcomes ever fail to materialize, which would falsify the hypothesis. He further held that all deductive reasoning is mathematical, and that all mathematical reasoning is diagrammatic. What he meant by this is that it proceeds by constructing, manipulating, and observing a representation that embodies the significant formal relations of its object; i.e., a model.
Reflection on the thought process commonly employed by engineers reveals that it is a "logic of ingenuity" with a similar structure: (retroductively) creating a model of a problem and its proposed solution, and then (deductively) working out the consequences, such that this serves as an adequate substitute for (inductively) evaluating the actual situation. In other words, engineers analyze and design specific artifacts for particular purposes by simulating contingent events with necessary reasoning. Exercising good judgment derived from experience is essential in formulating not only the model itself, but also the rule-governed representational system that determines its permissible transformations and their results.
Furthermore, just as science serves as an especially systematic way of knowing, likewise engineering serves as an especially systematic way of willing. This implies that engineering's distinctive form of reasoning should be paradigmatic for going about making choices of any kind, and then acting upon them; i.e., for ethical decision-making. In fact, it is possible to derive explicit parallels between diagrammatic reasoning and ethical deliberation from the writings of Peirce. He viewed thought as a species of conduct, and thus logic as a species of ethics, such that self-control is essential to doing both well.
Contrary to engineering's traditional reputation, this approach does not entail the use of a quantitative model in every instance. For example, rather than an abstract formalization, it might be--and in ethical scenarios, often is--conceived as a narrative instead. Regardless, the key to success is having the ability to discern the significant aspects of reality and consistently capture them, before definitively selecting a way forward from among multiple viable options. The logic of ingenuity is thus a carefully cultivated habit that facilitates imagining possibilities, assessing alternatives, and choosing one of them to actualize--not just in engineering, but in any human endeavor.